What is War?
War is conflict among states where armed forces confront the
armed forces of another state. It is generally conducted within certain customs
or laws. By common consent war is generally seen as ‘just’ if it is in
self-defence and if it is sanctioned by the UN. However, there were just wars
prior to the formation of the UN and UN permission is not intrinsic to just war
theory. It is difficult to argue the idea of ‘just cause’ if the war is against
a state that poses no immediate threat, but which perhaps has an undemocratic
War used to be something that you read about in history
books, but now you can see it every day. Apart from disease and natural
disasters, we see the horror of war all the time and not many other things are
able to bring home human suffering to such an extreme level. It can be very
hard to imagine why anyone would want to go to war with the population of
another country; that any sane individual would want to attack another country
to seize its land or to change its political processes. Therefore, there must
be a range of powerful motivations that would mean going to war.
Out of most social issues, war is probably the only ethical issue
that has produced such a large demonstration of public feeling. In the past,
war was seen to be something in far-off lands and the casualties were
predominantly professional soldiers on the battlefield. Today, travel and
communication means that the world has become a much smaller place and we
receive live coverage on television. The majority of casualties today are civilians,
who lose their homes, their livelihood, many even their lives. War most of the
time spills into terrorism which in many cases can present an even greater risk
and threat to everyday civilian lives.
People go to war for greed, for excitement and adventure,
for religion and politics. War is a very peculiar human activity and can bring
out some of our best traits, such as courage and self-sacrifice, and yet it can
also lead men and women to commit acts of cruelty and barbarism.
The Development of
The issue of the legitimacy of killing or using violence
against other people has occupied philosophers since ancient times. Most societies
have rules that forbid killings, to prevent a community falling into anarchy,
but they also distinguish between murder and killing in war or as a form of
punishment. This means that there has to be a clear understanding of what
constitutes a war and how it should be conducted. Aristotle, for example,
believed war was justified if self-defence was involved.
Old Testament writings show the Jews believed God commanded
them to fight their enemies. Stories also indicate their belief that it was
totally acceptable to massacre non-combatants: Deuteronomy 3:24, records the annihilation
of the King Sihon’s subjects: women and children included, ‘We left no
The arrival of Jesus marked a dramatic change because he
preached non-violence. ‘Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you’, he told
his followers in Matthew 5:39. The early Church adopted this pacifist approach until
Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Church was
then required to change its approach to warfare in response to the state’s
political needs. St Augustine was instrumental in this departure from pacifism
and his ideas were developed by Aquinas. The theory of Just War, which began then,
continued evolving in the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Convention.
The Origins of Just War Theory
The origins of Just War theory as previously stated go back
to philosophers such as Aristotle and Cicero, who wrote that a war in
self-defence was just. The first Christian Development of Just War came with
Ambrose of Milan and his student, Augustine of Hippo. The political situation
has changed rapidly and the Roman Empower Constantine began to use the Roman
state to support the Church. According to an influential bishop name Eusebius,
Christian pacifism was from then on to be strictly for clergy, monks and nuns;
lay Christians, however, were obliged to defend the country with force.